ATI improves PC graphics with Radeon X800

ATI Technologies launched its next-generation X800 graphics processor Tuesday, giving gamers and PC enthusiasts another choice for advanced PC graphics technology, ATI said.

The Radeon X800 chip is available in two graphics cards, the high-end Radeon X800 XT Platinum and the Radeon X800 Pro. The X800 XT Platinum will be available later this month for a suggested retail price of US$499, and the X800 Pro is immediately available through ATI and other retailers for a suggested retail price of US$399.

ATI, based in Markham, Ontario, improved the compression technology used in older versions of the Radeon chips with the new releases. Game developers can now create better-looking characters and scenery without sacrificing performance, ATI said.

The new graphics cards will also support GDDR3 (graphics double data rate 3) memory, and run at faster clock rates than their predecessors, ATI said. The X800 XT Platinum runs at 520MHz, while the X800 Pro runs at 475MHz.

Most PC users don't require the graphics technology provided by ATI's X800 chips and rival Nvidia Corp.'s new GeForce 6800 chips. But the gaming community is a highly influential group of PC users, and both PC and graphics processor companies compete vigorously for market share within that group.

This high-end technology also over time filters down into more affordable graphics cards that are bundled with midtier and high-end consumer desktop PCs. Consumers who are not as familiar with graphics technology often seek out the advice of friends within the PC gaming community when making a decision about which graphics card to purchase.

Nvidia announced the GeForce 6800 chips in April, but graphics cards with the chips are not expected to ship until later this month. A number of third-party reviews were released Tuesday comparing ATI's new chips with Nvidia's products, and while most reviewers thought the performance of the two products was similar depending on the game or benchmark, several reviewers such as HardOCP.com and The Tech Report (http://techreport.com/) gave the nod to ATI's technology.

However, Nvidia's chips support Shader Model 3.0, an advanced method of rendering life-like fleshtones and other complex graphics. Shader Model 3.0 is part of Microsoft Corp.'s DirectX 9.0 graphics APIs (applications programming interfaces), and several games are under development that will take advantage of the performance enabled by Shader Model 3.0 when they are released, Nvidia said Tuesday in a release.

ATI's new chips support Shader Model 2.0, which is the standard for high-end graphics performances in currently available games and games that will be released in the near future.

Intel Corp. actually holds the largest share of the PC graphics market with its Intel Extreme Graphics chips. These chips are integrated into some of Intel's chipsets, and are designed to provide graphics performance for mainstream consumers who don't want to spend extra money on a third-party graphics card.

Intel held 33 percent of the market in the first quarter, according to research from Jon Peddie Research Inc. in Tiburon, California. Nvidia and ATI trailed with 27.2 percent and 24 percent, respectively.

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Tom Krazit

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